“Heavens!” exclaimed the aunt of Clovis, “here’s some one I know bearing down on us. I can’t remember his name, but he lunched with us once in Town. Tarrington—yes, that’s it. He’s heard of the picnic I’m giving for the Princess, and he’ll cling to me like a lifebelt till I give him an invitation; then he’ll ask if he may bring all his wives and mothers and sisters with him. That’s the worst of these small watering-places; one can’t escape from anybody.”
“I’ll fight a rearguard action for you if you like to do a bolt now,” volunteered Clovis; “you’ve a clear ten yards start if you don’t lose time.”
The aunt of Clovis responded gamely to the suggestion, and churned away like a Nile steamer, with a long brown ripple of Pekingese spaniel trailing in her wake.
“Pretend you don’t know him,” was her parting advice, tinged with the reckless courage of the non-combatant.
The next moment the overtures of an affably disposed gentleman were being received by Clovis with a “silent-upon-a-peak-in-Darien” stare which denoted an absence of all previous acquaintance with the object scrutinized.
“I expect you don’t know me with my moustache,” said the new-comer; “I’ve only grown it during the last two months.”
“On the contrary,” said Clovis, “the moustache is the only thing about you that seemed familiar to me. I felt certain that I had met it somewhere before.”
“My name is Tarrington,” resumed the candidate for recognition.
“A very useful kind of name,” said Clovis; “with a name of that sort no one would blame you if you did nothing in particular heroic or remarkable, would they? And yet if you were to raise a troop of light horse in a moment of national emergency, ‘Tarrington’s Light Horse’ would sound quite appropriate and pulse-quickening; whereas if you were called Spoopin, for instance, the thing would be out of the question. No one, even in a moment of national emergency, could possibly belong to Spoopin’s Horse.”
The new-comer smiled weakly, as one who is not to be put off by mere flippancy, and began again with patient persistence:
“I think you ought to remember my name—”
“I shall,” said Clovis, with an air of immense sincerity. “My aunt was asking me only this morning to suggest names for four young owls she’s just had sent her as pets. I shall call them all Tarrington; then if one or two of them die or fly away, or leave us in any of the ways that pet owls are prone to, there will be always one or two left to carry on your name. And my aunt won’t LET me forget it; she will always be asking ‘Have the Tarringtons had their mice?’ and questions of that sort. She says if you keep wild creatures in captivity you ought to see after their wants, and of course she’s quite right there.”
“I met you at luncheon at your aunt’s house once—” broke in Mr. Tarrington, pale but still resolute.
“My aunt never lunches,” said Clovis; “she belongs to the National Anti-Luncheon League, which is doing quite a lot of good work in a quiet, unobtrusive way. A subscription of half a crown per quarter entitles you to go without ninety-two luncheons.”
“This must be something new,” exclaimed Tarrington.
“It’s the same aunt that I’ve always had,” said Clovis coldly.
“I perfectly well remember meeting you at a luncheon-party given by your aunt,” persisted Tarrington, who was beginning to flush an unhealthy shade of mottled pink.
“What was there for lunch?” asked Clovis.
“Oh, well, I don’t remember that—”
“How nice of you to remember my aunt when you can no longer recall the names of the things you ate. Now my memory works quite differently. I can remember a menu long after I’ve forgotten the hostess that accompanied it. When I was seven years old I recollect being given a peach at a garden-party by some Duchess or other; I can’t remember a thing about her, except that I imagine our acquaintance must have been of the slightest, as she called me a ‘nice little boy,’ but I have unfading memories of that peach. It was one of those exuberant peaches that meet you halfway, so to speak, and are all over you in a moment. It was a beautiful unspoiled product of a hothouse, and yet it managed quite successfully to give itself the airs of a compote. You had to bite it and imbibe it at the same time. To me there has always been something charming and mystic in the thought of that delicate velvet globe of fruit, slowly ripening and warming to perfection through the long summer days and perfumed nights, and then coming suddenly athwart my life in the supreme moment of its existence. I can never forget it, even if I wished to. And when I had devoured all that was edible of it, there still remained the stone, which a heedless, thoughtless child would doubtless have thrown away; I put it down the neck of a young friend who was wearing a very DÉCOLLETÉ sailor suit. I told him it was a scorpion, and from the way he wriggled and screamed he evidently believed it, though where the silly kid imagined I could procure a live scorpion at a garden-party I don’t know. Altogether, that peach is for me an unfading and happy memory—”
The defeated Tarrington had by this time retreated out of ear-shot, comforting himself as best he might with the reflection that a picnic which included the presence of Clovis might prove a doubtfully agreeable experience.
“I shall certainly go in for a Parliamentary career,” said Clovis to himself as he turned complacently to rejoin his aunt. “As a talker-out of inconvenient bills I should be invaluable.”